It was a photograph laden with symbolism, posted to social media by newly minted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with the phrase, "We're all in this together". 

But they weren't all together in Paris.

A dissenting voice heading into the UN climate change conference, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall was noticeably absent from the group shot, says Charles Smith, assistant professor in the department of political science at St. Thomas More College at University of Saskatchewan.

"Whatever the actual reason for missing the photo, the optics were clear," Smith said.

In a conference call with reporters back in Saskatchewan the next day, Wall laughed off his absence and denied feeling like an outsider.

"No, not at all," said Wall, explaining that he had been doing a television interview while the photo was being taken and arrived afterwards. "And you know, credit the prime minister, I've not felt like that, frankly. I mean I've been asked that question."

Growing profile

Wall is answering a lot of questions from national media outlets these days.

"I think for the first time in a long time, at least since [former NDP premier] Roy Romanow, we're seeing a leader from Saskatchewan with some stature," said long-time newspaper columnist for the Regina Leader-Post, Murray Mandryk.

Wall's profile has grown, Mandryk said, with the defeat of Conservative governments both federally and in Alberta.

"That is probably the biggest change to his national stature, how unique his voice has suddenly become on the national stage as a conservative voice," Mandryk said.

First Ministers Meeting 20151123

Wall arrives to speak to reporters before a meeting with premiers in Ottawa last year. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

It's an opportunity that Smith believes Wall is capitalizing on.

"I think that there's a political opportunity to campaign against Ottawa in this climate that wasn't there a year ago for a small-c Conservative premier," Smith said.

"The so-called Liberal wave stopped at Saskatchewan, quite clearly" Mandryk said, noting that in the federal election, voters elected Conservative MPs in 10 of Saskatchewan's 14 ridings.

"Historically it's never hurt western premiers to campaign against the over-intrusion of Ottawa into its jurisdiction,"  Smith said. "I think Mr. Wall's very conscious of that."

'Spokesperson' for Saskatchewan

"I see myself as a spokesperson for Saskatchewan," Wall said during a recent phone conversation from the campaign trail.

"But I also think we're to the point where... Saskatchewan people, they'd like to see things done. They prefer results over a scrap, for example." - Brad Wall

"Sometimes, though, Saskatchewan's interests may — with respect to pipelines, for example, with respect to resource development or what we think would be helpful economically maybe in terms of low-tax policy, competitive regulation — that might all sound like we're speaking for some perspective in Canada," Wall said.

"But those are all, in my view, the interests that align with Saskatchewan's economic interests."

The Saskatchewan Party leader is hoping to secure a third term for his party and the polls show him with a strong lead.

brad wall vaughn solomon schofield

Brad Wall meets with Lt.-Gov. Vaughn Solomon Schofield to dissolve the 27th legislative assembly. (Government of Saskatchewan)

When asked whether he agrees with the assertion that it never hurts a western leader to rail against the federal government, Wall suggests that is changing.

"Maybe that's been the case in the past," he said. "But I also think we're to the point where … Saskatchewan people, they'd like to see things done. They prefer results over a scrap, for example.

"People, I think, are most interested in results and would likely say to both levels of government: 'Get along. Find places where you agree and further the interests of the people that you work for."

Oil optics

Political watchers agree there is a downside for Wall in being seen as a relentless critic of the federal government.

"I think in the long term is where I see the downside, because right now he is the unabashed voice of the oil industry — in terms of more extraction of oil, quicker extraction of oil — in fact going so far as to say that the public should clean up the messes left by oil companies," Smith said.

Premiers Meeting

Wall heads from a scrum with reporters at the summer meeting of Canada's premiers in St. John's on July 16, 2015. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

"I think there's a danger in a premier, regardless of political stripe, being too close to industry at that level."

Mandryk says it can also be distracting.

"I fear that the same thing is going to happen to Brad Wall that happens to other longer-term successful governments including the last two consecutive NDP governments that went past two terms," Mandryk said, referring to the governments of former premiers Allan Blakeney and later, Roy Romanow and their focus on the constitution and health care formulas.

"They get bored with Saskatchewan politics and they start looking to entertain themselves with national issues, not realizing that you pretty much have to ride the economy pretty closely at home to keep things going as they are.

"Because the economic situation is as it is in Saskatchewan, we need to be tending to the economy, we need to be looking at creative and innovative ways of diversifying the economy. I don't see that happening in this campaign,"  Mandryk said.

Wall says if his party is re-elected on April 4, he will continue to speak out on national issues of interest to Saskatchewan.

Sask Elxn 20111107

Wall in 2011 at his Swift Current campaign office with his mother, Alice. (Liam Richards/The Canadian Press)

When he does, Wall says, he will continue to make a conscious decision about whether to use honey or vinegar to attract more of what he wants, but he won't shy away from the latter.

"I think we need to speak very plainly to the rest of the country. I think we need to point out to the rest of Canada that we currently import oil. We have the third greatest oil reserves on Earth and yet we import oil from places like Saudi Arabia. That just doesn't make any sense," Wall said.

"We'll work constructively within the federation, I'll always do that, But I'm also going to speak plainly, because we've used a lot of honey for many, many decades. And I'm not sure it's worked all that well, frankly."